Identity. What is that? With the 9/11 anniversary imminent, Muslim identity is one of the hot topics on talk shows. With school starting again, African or Caribbean identity in our education system is on some minds although not as dominant as last year. And in cyclical fashion, First Nations identity is discussed amongst some Canadians. We’re concerned about what it means to be (fill in the blank), the stereotyping of certain peoples, and the idea that children don’t see themselves reflected in their teachers and in their classwork to their detriment.
I’m a half-breed. I’m half of a people so decimated, there are purportedly only a couple of hundred thousand left on the entire planet and whose official structure didn’t recognize me as being Parsi (they do now) because of a deal they made centuries ago in order to survive. Half of hardly anything is rare indeed. It would’ve been an astonishing day to see a person like me teaching me or mentioned in any of my studies as people to admire. I was so rare that it wasn’t until the 21st century – until after an influx of people who worked and played alongside people like half of me on the other side of the planet — that anyone knew what I was talking about when I mentioned I was Zoroastrian or Parsi. My heritage is actually writ on my face – except for my nose. And thank God for that. Parsi noses are prominent. Anyway, because of that, some Russians, Indians, and Iranians look at me and know me.
It is strange.
And I’m conflicted.
I grew up in a school system who knew no one like me. It was so bad that when I was taught classical civilizations in high school, I rooted for the ancient Greeks in their war against the ancient Persians because that’s who my teacher – the irascible Mr. Payne – rooted for. And, as well, there were lots of Greeks left to care for and advocate for their history; Parsis don’t even live in their own land anymore, never mind have control over their structures, history, and names. (Many think my name is Muslim. It isn’t, it’s a Parsi name. The co-opting of Parsi names as Muslim ones would be like Cree names being co-opted by the English and identified as English names.) And despite being an argumentative, debating lot, Parsis as a people have no voice. It was a long time before I learnt that the ancient Persians were my ancestors. And so I can’t get excited about people blaming the lack of seeing themselves in their teachers and coursework for their lousy performance. In the end, it wasn’t seeing myself reflected at school that drove me to do well, it was what I was taught at home, told over and over and over and over and over again that only good marks would do, specifically “A”s.
Yet I find myself increasingly annoyed at the token female syndrome. You know, that’s when a talk show has a panel of which only one member is female so that the show or host can say they represent all perspectives. Yeah, right. When TVO gave the boot to Paula Todd, they also gave the boot to female equality in front of the camera on The Agenda. I’m not talking about going from female-male co-hosts to male host only. I’m talking about panels of five being all male but one. And why is it panels of three can only be two males plus one female? Why never the other way around? In the 21st century, there aren’t such a dearth of expert women that it would be hard to fill a panel with them.
Seeing these token-women panels makes me feel like I don’t matter, that as a female I have a voice so long as the men around me let me have one. As a half-Parsi, half-English Christian, I don’t feel like that at all. My Parsi heritage taught me to use my voice, that it counted as much as anyone else’s. And so as a teen and adult I never let patriarchy or misogynist attitudes shut me up or to feel less than. So what gives now?
Decades of being worn down by the inequity of being female.
And moreso, losing my personal identity because of brain injury.
It’s tough enough to belong to a group no one’s heard of, but to not yourself know who you are, with no solid group identity to hold on to, is a torturous place to be. Yet that’s not as bad as inhabiting the female identity, for women are treated so badly, so routinely that the fact the glass ceiling hasn’t moved in twenty years barely mentioned a blip on the evening news. In all the discussions of how hard it is to be a Muslim in a Christian society (try being a Christian in a Muslim society, ahem), an African- or Caribbean-Canadian in the ghettoes, a First Nations member on a poor reserve with no running water, the pundits and opiners forget that to be female in any society is to be below every culture, every ethnicity, every race, every creed. Is it any wonder then that too many women who achieve success lash out at the other females and keep them off the airwaves and out of the boardrooms? To be female is to have the most contemptible identity of all.